Blue Fox Run wetlands hearing continued to Nov. 5
By John Fitts
The Avon Inland Wetlands Commission has continued a public hearing regarding a map amendment application for Blue Fox Run Golf Course.
On Oct. 6 the commission opened a virtual public hearing on the application, which seeks to amend the town’s wetlands map. The application contends that field work data gathered by soil scientists accurately depicts wetlands at the site.
In the spring of 2019, the commission rejected a similar proposal. At that time, The Keystone Companies, LLC, and Sunlight Construction, Inc., were seeking the change as part of an effort to construct “The Residences at Blue Fox Run,” consisting of 95 single-family homes in a common interest community, as well as three single family homes along Nod Road. Later in the year the Planning and Zoning Commission rejected a zone change request related to the plan.
During that process, the golf course stated its goal to reconfigure the course from 27 holes to 18 in an effort to save on maintenance costs and improve the course.
While a subsequently withdrawn application earlier this year still involved Keystone, the current one, brought only by Blue Fox Run and two other landowners, includes no proposed regulated activities. Golf course managers have told The Valley Press that a wetlands decision is needed for plans to reconfigure the course on the eastern side of the Farmington River.
On Oct. 6, Michael A. Cegan, of Richter & Cegan landscape architects and Urban Designers, also told the commission, “Blue Fox has submitted this application because they are in the process of a comprehensive review of their golf course operations. Part of this data valuation includes an understanding of the full characteristics of the land, its opportunities and constraints.”
Those involved in the effort state that the Avon regulations are clear that field work is necessary when establishing wetlands.
“The wetlands as set out in two places in your regulations are generally shown on the map meaning the map is a general indication where the wetlands are but as your regulations say in each instance … the precise location of wetlands and watercourses shall be determined by the commission based on the actual type of soil or character of the area,” land use attorney Janet Brooks said at the hearing on behalf of the applicants.
The town’s map, according to the applicant’s soil scientists, is largely based on outdated information that was gathered in a manner much less precise than modern methods.
Those working on behalf of the applicant also told the commission that the two soil scientists who conducted field work for the previous efforts, conducted additional field work and gathered a wealth of new data. Brooks also said the suggestions of the North Central District were incorporated in the latest application.
“At the end of the process it resulted in a process that the wetland delineation in the map amendment that quote ‘accurately and optimally represent wetlands boundaries and soil conditions observed during the field inspection,’” Brooks said. “Those aren’t my words. Those aren’t our team’s soils scientists’ words. That’s the opinion of your town consultant.”
At issue, however, has been the limit of floodplain or alluvial soils – those deposited by flowing water – on the property. Soil disturbance has been affected by past agricultural use, golf course development and even changes in the river, particularly with the development of upriver dams.
“This site based on the historic research, is really a mosaic of past land uses,” Bob Russo, a soil scientist with CLA Engineers, told the commission Oct. 6.
In past proceedings, the soil scientists working at the site have recommended the 100-year floodplain as a limit.
Soil scientist Michael Klein of Davison Environmental, was again used to “peer review” Russo’s work noted that approach again in a letter to the commission.
“Determining the extent of the poorly drained and very poorly drained soils and watercourses at the site is straightforward. However, due to the degree of disturbance at the site, the extent of the floodplain and alluvial soils is not. After consultation with CT DEEP and Soil Conservation Service (now Natural Resources Conservation Service) staff, I had previously recommended use of the elevation of the 100-year return frequency flood as a conservative representation of the limit of floodplain and alluvial soils at the site. The Avon Inland Wetlands and Watercourses Commission and town staff concurred with this approach on several occasions, most recently in 2004.”
Those speaking on behalf of Nod Road Preservation, Inc., the nonprofit that waged a high profile “Save Nod Road” campaign when the housing development was proposed, have contended that, in an age of global warming, the 500-year flood line should be used.
Dr. Michael Klemens, a conservation biologist and former CT Siting Council member, was one of those who spoke at the contentious hearings in 2019 and he again addressed the commission Oct. 6.
“Right now, you have mixed data on alluvial soils but you do have very clear indication where the 100-year line lies and the 500-year flood line lies,” he said. “I think we all realize that the 100-year flood is no longer the 100-year flood and we are getting more frequent flooding events. So, my underlying concern is if you remap this entire area as proposed, you’re actually stripping basic protection from an area that is prone to flooding. It’s been demonstrated by testimony in the previous hearing that there is flooding that goes up to the road in the 500-year flood area.
“So, my question is while the map change certainly may benefit the applicant by giving them free range of the site, where is the public benefit of doing this?”
Responding to a commission question at the Oct. 6, Russo contended that there are no weaknesses in the applicant’s proposal.
“I don’t believe there are weaknesses in this evaluation. I think this is based on and extremely high amount of data collection in the field and it’s based on the professional judgment and opinion of four soil scientists, all of whom have decades of experience in the field,” he said.
Soil scientists on behalf of Blue Fox also contend that they dug deep enough to determine that there were no alluvial soils in the approximate 12-acre “blob” on the town’s map that was quite controversial in the 2019 application hearings.
When the commission is set to meet again Nov. 5 at 7 p.m. via Zoom, it also expects to hear from Timothy G. Welling of Welling Geoservices in Clinton Corners, N.Y., speaking on behalf of Nod Road Preservation, Inc.
In a letter to the commission, he stated, in part, “In my experience, I have not seen the 100-year FEMA flood elevation replace wetland boundary lines. In addition, I believe that this methodology weakens our profession as soil scientists. Please note that the 100-year FEMA flood elevation is subject to more frequent changes based on watershed development and climate change than are soil criteria.”
That night the commission plans to further consider an intervention petition filed by Nod Road Preservation, under a state law that allows intervention as a “party” in the proceeding if the “judicial review involves conduct which has, or which is reasonably likely to have, the effect of unreasonably polluting, impairing or destroying the public trust in the air, water or other natural resources of the state.”
Attorneys for Nod Road and the applicant, however, are at odds over whether the statute applies, with Brooks arguing that there is no conduct or regulated activity proposed and the application is based on sound science. Attorneys for Nod Road Preservation contend that mapping certainly involves conduct and could lead to compromised wetlands.
Residents interested in the continued public hearing, set for 7 p.m. Nov. 5 can find the application materials at www.avonct.gov/inland-wetlands-commission.
A link to the hearing will also be posted on that site in the days prior to the meeting.